Sometimes politicians make the mistake of listening to their staff at their own peril. Eric Holder is making that mistake when it comes to some of the biggest scandals on his watch, such as the dismissal of the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party. Holder’s interview with Charlie Savage of the New York Times shows that he has adopted a dug-in partisan position instead of a cautious and reasoned one.
For an attorney general facing increased scrutiny from Congress, this partisan approach is damaging to the Department, and probably to Holder’s tenure as attorney general.
In the interview, Savage asks Holder about the New Black Panther dismissal. Despite the fact that the New Black Panthters were captured on video with weapons and fascist-style uniforms at the entrance to a polling place, Holder said: “There is no there, there.” Really? Heady stuff from the attorney general.
When asked about the fact that Holder’s Civil Rights Division is hostile to racially equal enforcement of the law from top to bottom, Holder again deploys another cliché, calling it a “made up controversy.” Holder doubled down: “All I have on my side with regard to that is the facts and the law.”
Maybe Holder has the facts and law on his side in Oz, but not in the United States of America. Holder would be well advised to retreat from this inflexible position. Too many stories, too many incidents are known by too many people. But maybe Holder’s flying monkeys aren’t too eager to tell him there is substance to the allegations — after all, they are part of the problem. Nor can the flying monkeys keep the facts bottled up forever.
Or more likely, Holder knows full well the truth of the allegations, but agrees with the efforts of his flying monkeys to impose a vision of civil rights enforcement that doesn’t protect everyone, but only protects Holder’s political allies.
Holder is gambling that enough people will react with partisan loyalty to disbelieve the allegations of unequal law enforcement, and enough of the rest of the public can be tricked to buy peace. But truth has a funny way of floating to the surface, even if it takes time. That’s a gamble Holder doesn’t want to take. The bodies always surface.
Imagine how quickly the whole matter would go away if the Department confessed error. You’d never hear about the mess again. But a racialist ideology is a nasty and sticky thing, not easily escaped or excused by those who adopt it.
Congress also deserves answers regarding why Holder’s staff didn’t tell the truth in House and Senate Judiciary oversight proceedings, including in written responses.
Senators John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions have done a spectacular job holding Holder’s Justice Department accountable on a wide range of issues. With increased Republican numbers in Congress, Holder would do well to stop listening to his staff and figure out the truth on his own.
Some credit is due Charlie Savage of the New York Times for even pressing the attorney general on the New Black Panther dismissal. Bob Schieffer can’t say as much. Savage could bolster his credibility by making the same inquiries of this Justice Department as he did to the Bush DOJ. For starters, he could examine the preposterous hiring practices in the Civil Rights Division since Obama’s inauguration. The more time that passes without an inquiry from Savage and the New York Times, the more partisan his badgering of the Bush DOJ appears.
Holder, who claims to spend long nights at his kitchen table reviewing death penalty certifications, would do well to spend some time also reviewing the New Black Panther case files before he embarrasses himself again.
Holder might also inquire why congressmen threw King and Rosenbaum out of their offices during Black Panther briefings. The most important thing Holder might ponder at his kitchen table is why two successful and award-winning DOJ attorneys stuck their necks out to describe a culture of hostility to race neutral enforcement of civil rights laws. Even worse, numerous current DOJ attorneys corroborated the testimony to the Washington Post.
If Eric Holder wants to be taken seriously these last two years of the term, he would do well to find ways to engage in reasonable discourse and jettison the campaign-style rhetoric. More and more facts are going to emerge through congressional oversight about the DOJ’s rotted approach to enforcement of civil rights laws, and Holder will not be able to divert attention to these details with bluster.
Instead of circling partisan wagons, Holder would serve his own interests by boring deeper into the truth of the New Black Panther case. Instead of spouting spin crafted by underlings, he should learn the truth, especially when the underlings drafting his talking points are the same people who bungled the dismissal, like Steven Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum has drafted error-filled responses to Congress, and others, even though his fingerprints are all over the mess. The role of Rosenbaum, King, and Karen Stevens (another partisan staffer) in developing false responses to Congress should be one additional line of inquiry by oversight committees. It will be hard for Holder to spend his dwindling political capital to defend the factual errors of these three.
Credible operations compartmentalize such things. The Bush DOJ didn’t have Monica Goodling drafting responses to Congress. The Holder DOJ has delegated the job of preparing talking points for the attorney general and drafting responses for Congress to the very people who caused the scandal in the first place. Add Holder’s New York Times interview to the list of examples where it seems amateurs are running the federal government.